Reading Victims and Judging Credibility

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I watched a live webinar on reading victims and judging credibility presented by Deputy District Attorney Wendy Patrick, JD, Ph.D. and hosted by End Violence Against Women International and wanted to share takeaways I found helpful.

First impressions are key. The more information you can get in the first meeting with the victim the more objective read you can get. You can always gain more information with each meeting but it is human nature to view people through rose-colored glasses once we know them. Optimize the amount of exposure by having multiple people in the room when interviewing the victim. This allows for different people to give their perspective of the victim’s story and lessen the number of times the victim is forced to repeat their story.

Wendy uses the acronym FLAG which stands for Focus, Lifestyle, Association, and Goals to describe the red flags areas to analyze. These are not used to victim blame, rather to gain background knowledge to help you get a better read. If you don’t know anything about the victim then you won’t have the context in which to put the content they are giving you. Use these FLAG questions as a wide-angle lens to view the victim over a longer period of time to get a better read.


What captures the victim’s attention when you are interviewing them? Is the victim afraid of exposing infidelities? Are they afraid of the stigma at their employment or losing their job?


How does the victim spend their time? Where do they work? What are their hobbies? What is their online presence like? What posts do they like?


Who does the victim hang around? What organizations do they belong to? Who are their friends, fans, and followers?


What are their priorities and ambitions? This helps to read below the surface and to see the person behind the persona.

Trauma affects people in different ways. It is very common for victims to only give out pieces of information over time during different interviews and there are lots of reasons for this. They may not remember specific details because they were only focused on surviving. Some details may come back to them after they have told the story many times. They may purposely leave out details because they are ashamed, embarrassed or humiliated. They may have been given bad advice by friends or family. They may feel like they are being put on trial. The trauma may have caused them to disassociate. None of this should imply dishonesty. Be sure the victim knows it is never too late to disclose an honest memory or detail they suddenly remember.

Ask the victims what matters to them. Bond with them as early in the process as possible. Find common ground, similarity breeds connection. Try to meet the victims needs for feeling safe and validated. Let them know you are on the same team and that they are not alone.